Saturday, March 11, 2017
In Honor Of Women’s History Month – Poet Jesse Baxter’s In Pharaoh Times
In Honor Of Women’s History Month – Poet Jesse Baxter’s In Pharaoh Times
In Pharaoh Times
Isis, daughter of Isis major, mother- wife-sister of the human sun god
Awoke, awoke with a start weary from brother couplings; and stray poppy laden abandoned copulations
Configurations only a deacon priest filled with signs and amulets could fathom, or some racked court astrologer
To face the stone-breaking day, a day filled to the brim, overflowing, with portents
Arisen, washed, fragranced, headed to the balcony to observe unseen and to be observed seen beneath the cloudless skies
Out in the ocean sea of whirling sand, out in the endless chiseled stone sun blazing day; her sea visage on down heads, eyes averted
Hittites, Gilts, Samians, Cretans, Nubians, Babylonians all conquered all down heads and averted eyes
Out on the ocean see, a lone sable warrior defeated, defeated with down head and upward eye disturbed the blistering heat day
Isis, daughter of Isis major, mother-wife-sister-child of the human sun king shrinks back in fear, fear time has come
That black will devour Nubian and rise, rise
Yes, rise in Pharaoh times
Jesse Baxter had never been so angry in his young black and be damned life as he had been at his, well, let’s call her his lady friend, even though strictly speaking she was more than a lady friend and the term had lost some of its urgency in the rush to proclaim a new estate for women which included cutting down to size such terms but lady friend for private consumption, Louise Crawford, since he was not sure whether girlfriend in the intricate relationship networks of the 1960s in quirky old Greenwich Village in the depths of trail-blazing New Jack City was an appropriate designation for their newly flowered relationship. Jesse a budding poet, a very hopeful poet who had just begun to get noticed in that rarified Village air had become one of Louise Crawford ‘s, ah, “conquests” on her way to tasting all that the Bohemian night offered (not quite “beat,” that had become passé by then and not quite “hip” as in hippie that would become the fashion later in the decade so bohemian, meaning out on the cultural outer edge, would do, would do as long as Jesse thought such a term was appropriate).
We should take note of that budding poet business since David Logan, the influenicial critic for Poetry Today, the bible of the trade, among others had proclaimed Jesse the cleanest voice around since Langston Hughes put pen to paper. But see just then no young black poet (or any kind of cultural artist for that matter) wanted to be compared to any old Tom-ish figure who went “white” when the deal went down, didn’t want to incur LeRoi Jones soon to return to his Africa name and his ilk’s wrath much less exile Jimmy Baldwin’s. Needed to show that he could tell Mister Whitey to take himself and his cultural apparatus that was a yoke on his or blackness to go to hell with his brethren down among the Mister James Crow brethren. Above all did not want to be tarred with some hokey David Logan Poetry Today-funded by one of the Lowells, not real poet Robert’s branch by the textile one, brush as the great “white” hope to assuage liberal guilt or whatever guilt needed assuaging after four hundred years of letting the rednecks have their way. So paint one Jesse Baxter officially as an angry black artists who was going to tell the world what was what and be damned straight about it too.
Here’s the funny little contradiction, the little blind spot white spot in which Jesse was hardly alone. Jesse had seen Louise around the Village several times at the trendy art shows (the first of the Soho-Warhol doings away from the “official” modernist art of the Village and MoMa), upbeat coffeehouses beginning to emerge from “beat” poetry and jazz scenes to retro folk revival stuff where he was able to get still get play because he had been befriended by Dave Von Ronk who was the father figure of that revival, and at a few loft parties large enough to get lost in without having met everybody or anyone, if that was what one wanted. He had heard of her “exploits,” exploits tramping through the budding literati but had only become acquainted with Louise through her “old” lover, Jose, Jose Guzman, the surrealist-influenced painter who was beginning to make a splash for himself in the up and coming art galleries emerging over in that nearby Soho previously mentioned (emerging as much because the penniless young artists were priced out of the Village once the suburban kids with father’s dough started renting dig in that hip locale. And either she had tired of Jose (possible once he tried one of his forever Picasso-Dali painterly tirades) or he had tired of her (more probable since Jose was thrown off right from the beginning by her “bourgeois “command manner and her overweening need to seem like a white hipster under every circumstance although she was quote, Jose, quote, square, unquote but a good tumble, a very good tumble under the sheets) and so one night she had hit on Jesse at a coffeehouse, Mike’s across from the Gaslight where he was reading and that was that. (Strangely in the folk mythology Mike Greenleaf the owner of Mike’s had actually in the late 1950s gone with several other NYU students to “discover” the old bluesmen like John Hurt, Bukka White, Skip James, guys like that who then came up and played the Gaslight and Geddes since the small Mike-style coffeehouses couldn’t afford the gaff and so the homeless poets, black and beat, or both found refuge there.)
But enough of small talk and back to Jesse’s rage. At one up-scale party held on Riverside Drive among the culturati, or what passed for such in downtrodden New York, as they had become an “item” Louise had introduced Jesse as the “greatest Negro poet since Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance.” Jesse was not put off by the comparison with the great Hughes, no way, that would come later under the influence of black protest poets like Jones and the ever-hovering presence of Baldwin, he accepted that designation with a certain sense of honor, although qualified a bit by the different rhythm that motivated Langston’s words, be-bop jazz, and his own Bo Diddley /Chuck Berry-etched “child of rock and roll” beat running in his head. What he was put off by was that “negro” designation, a term of derision just then in his universe as young blacks, especially young black men, were moving away from the negro Doctor King thing and toward that Malcolm freedom term, black, black as night, black is beautiful. Jesus, hadn’t she read his To Malcolm –Black Warrior Prince. (Apparently one of the virtues of tramping through the literati was an understanding that there was no actual need to read, look, hear, anything that your new “conquest” had written, drawn or sung. In the case of Louise she had made something of an art form out of that fact once confessing to Jesse that she had only actually read, and re-read, his Louise Love In Quiet Time written by him after some silly spat since she was the subject. His other work she had somebody summarize for her. Jesus, again.)
And it was not like Louise Crawford, yes, that Crawford, the scion-ess [sic] of the Wall Street Crawfords who had (have) been piling up dough and gouging profits since the start of the republic, was not attuned to the changes going on underneath bourgeois society just then but was her way to “own” him, own him like in olden times. While he was too much the gentile son of W.E.B. Dubois’ “talented tenth” (his parents both school teachers down in hometown Trenton who however needed to scrimp and safe to put him through Howard University) to make a scene at that party latter in the cab home to her place in the Village (as the well-tipped taxi driver could testify to, if necessary). Jesse lashed into her with all the fury a budding poet and belittled black man could muster.
In short, he would not be “owned” by some white bread woman who was just “cruising” the cultural and ethnic out-riggings before going back to marry some son of some sorry family friend stockbroker and live on Riverside Drive and summer in the Hamptons and all the rest while he struggled to create his words, his black soul-saturated word .
The harangue continued up into her loft and then Jesse ran out of steam a little (he had had a little too much of high-shelf liquors and of hits on the bong pipe to last forever in that state). Louise called for a truce, said she was sorry, sorry for being a square, and called him to her bed, pretty please to her bed. He, between the buzz in his head from the stimulants and the realization that she was good in bed, if nothing else, followed. And that night they made those sheets sweat with their juices. After they were depleted Jesse thought to himself that Louise might be just slumming but he would take a ticket and stay for the ride and fell asleep. Louise on the other hand, got up and went to the window to look out at her city, lit a cigarette and pondered some of Jesse’s words, pondered them for a while and got just a little bit fearful for her future as she went back to her bed and lay down next to the sleeping Jesse.
Later when he awakened just before dawn Jesse wrote his edgy poem In Pharaoh Times partially to contain the edges of his left-over rage and partially to take his distance from a daughter of Isis…
And hence this Women’s History Month contribution.